Too close to call

Got a question about a product or an account from a big-name online retailer that makes you want to speak directly to their customer service representative? What do you do first? Go to their website, of course. Can’t find a phone number there? Then you may do what seems like the next best thing and just type the company name into a search engine. But the FTC warns consumers that it’s a mistake to assume that all toll-free numbers that pop up in a search are legitimate customer service lines. Some are run by scammers out to hijack your credit card number or install malware on your computer.

We’re used to having easy phone access to major retailers. Scammers know that, too, so they’re gaming the system to mislead consumers. Using company names and URLs that look confusingly similar to national shopping outlets and big box stores, scammers hope that consumers will see the look-alike sites at the top of search engine results and assume they’re legitimate. Once they have you on the line with your defenses down, scammers try to get you to reveal your credit card number. In a variation on recent tech support scams, others claim to spot a security problem on your computer that they’ll fix — for a fee, of course.

Want to stay away from these scams? Here are some tips to help keep you safe.

  1. On some search engines, the prime real estate at the top or on the side of results pages is for sale. That’s why it’s unwise to assume that phone numbers that appear early in the list are always valid. Scammers may even use a variation on the real company’s name in their web address, which is why the presence of a familiar-sounding URL is no guarantee the phone number and website are genuine.
  2. The most reliable place to go for information is the URL you know is the company’s official website. However, not every company chooses to have a toll-free customer service number, and even those that do might not highlight it in all caps and bold it across the home page. Look for a “Contact Us” or “How can we help?” link, maybe on the bottom of the page or on a button bar at the top or along the side. This may take some time to navigate, but it will increase the likelihood that you’re going straight to the source.
  3. Toll-free numbers aren’t the only way companies connect with consumers these days. Some might limit their communication to email. Others offer an online chat function. Some companies direct consumers to enter a phone number with the promise that they’ll get a return call from the next available operator. Times are changing, and these are all now possibilities.
  4. So what should you do if you spot a fake customer service line? File a complaint with the FTC. Chances are you’re not the only one who is experiencing this. By letting us know, you can help us protect others.

Even if it involves some digging on a company’s website to find reliable contact information, search carefully and you’ll be more likely to stay safe online and strike gold with your search.

Comments

Personally I go to the terms and conditions and they have their phones listed there.

Excellent advice. I'm in the IT business and consider myself savvy to these types of scams. But I still got tripped up by a very good looking URL that took me to a fake site. Mercifully I realized mistake pretty quick (but not before giving a credit card.) I cancelled the credit card I used as soon as I realized what happen and emerged unscathed. These people who make the URL's are very clever. I am much more careful now.
I love the FTC. Its a great example of government that works!

THANKS, THIS IS A VALID COMMENT AND I HAVE NOTICED DISCREPANCIES AS I LOOK FOR WEBSITE.

Why are major online business not offering phone numbers for their paying members to call? Are they understaffed in the Customer Service Dept. or are business finding answering the phone (a live person) is too costly and not efficient?

We are getting calls from 713-597-6896, claiming that the IRS is going to file a lawsuit. We know it's a scam, but it's getting tiresome.

Why isn't it possible to require every corporation to provide a clear means of access, either by telephone or by email? It's shameful, to say the least, for corporations to hide from their customers, and it seems to me it ought to be illegal.

It may come to the point that the companies will either have to print the necessary info, tel, email address on the sales slip. Also the websites should be periodly checked to assure customers are getting the right info when needed.

I have gotten approximately 100 illegal calls in the past three months. I reported it, had all third party calls blocked and still getting calls as of today. Called phone company and told them to cut phone off but they insisted on giving me an unlisted number that has never been used before and will be private. If this doesn't stop it, I will have my phone disconnected. They have used numbers as 6 digit and my own phone number along with numbers from out of state where I know no one. I don't give out my number and only two relatives have it so I hope this outsmarts the best of the scammers and spoofers. I will try this for 30 days and hope for the best.

This additional information to what I originally wrote. So far my phone has not rang since changing my number. At least I have had silence for two days. Wow, I wonder how long it will take them to get my number? Thank you telephone carrier. I'm sure they will find me since they hacked my computer as they are now trying to "give" me gift cards, loans and trips on my computer. I've turned it off and don't open the messages. Technology will be the downfall of this country. I like the old fashioned way but kids today don't even know how to use their brain without a computer.

I need help filing a complaint against a business.

Anyone heard about wmclientsolution??

I.got.a robo call.that said i.have a complant filed on me for tax.fraud, and.it tells me.to call.some # to fix the issue with the IRS

I received a robo call on my machine, claiming "the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you" and a number in WA state to call. I contacted the IRS and now the FTC. Crazy.

My credit card company sent me the bill despite the fact that I reported the scam and asked to stop payment. They had stated to "give them 3 business day to see if it they really do put it through". Three days later the credit card company told me I shouldn't have given the scam company my credit card information, so now I have been charged. They did however, send me a new card and cancelled the other. Question: should I have been billed?

The Fair Credit Billing Act lets you dispute billing errors if you are charged for goods or services you didn't accept or that weren't delivered as agreed. This FTC article about Disputing Credit Card Charges tells you how to make the dispute.

Thank you very much for this important information.

I notice no one has made a complaint about the online service which Alibaba.com and AliExpress.com provides. These online company allow your company to submit request for items and give your email to several fake companies.

You can report a problem with a company to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.

Leave a Comment

Comment Policy

Read Our Privacy Act Statement

It is your choice whether to submit a comment. If you do, you must create a user name, or we will not post your comment. The Federal Trade Commission Act authorizes this information collection for purposes of managing online comments. Comments and user names are part of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) public records system, and user names also are part of the FTC’s computer user records system. We may routinely use these records as described in the FTC’s Privacy Act system notices. For more information on how the FTC handles information that we collect, please read our privacy policy.